Columbia Street grill adds jazz to an eclectic menu

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Heritage Grill manages to feel as much a club as a restaurant, with generous portions of West Coast Cajun

A.R. Wodell

New Westminster’s Columbia Street is a prime example of a town’s once-bustling main thoroughfare being dealt a near-fatal blow by the rise of mall culture.

However, with a college close by, two SkyTrain stations, and the recent arrival of lofts and condos, Columbia is on the slow rebound, starting to attract a quirky mixture of bookstores, upscale shops, and formal and/or funky clothing boutiques.

The Heritage Grill is doing its part, adding its own jazz note to the redefined mix. Owner Paul Minhas says he saw “so much potential on Columbia Street” that he decided to offer “something different and unique, not just to New Westminster residents, but to Surrey and Delta as well.”

As much a club as a restaurant, the Grill offers jazz combos every evening at 8 p.m. and at noon on Sunday. (The website includes the entertainment schedule for the coming months.) Its intimate space was reclaimed two years ago from another eatery: there are four comfy booths much favoured by regulars, a scattering of large and small tables, and a minute stage area up front, under a metal palm tree.

Furniture includes recycled chairs and tables decorated in “Jack the Dripper” Pollack mode, and the best you can say about the orange on orange decor is that its shabby comfort suggests The Drive rather than the burbs.

The view through the front windows is decidedly urban, given the large grey Army & Navy store directly opposite.

But a grill is a grill, and food counts much more than ambience.

Warned by our charming waitress about the size of the entrees, we avoided appetizers. All the classics are represented on the menu, perfectly suitable for nibbling during jazz sets. But we felt an obligation to sample the onion soup, the touchstone of pub grub, and especially welcome on a drizzly November evening in May. It was deep and rich and –critical point here — the toasted cheese crouton made with a gutsy slice of good bread did not dissolve at the first touch of a spoon, but maintained its integrity.

The special of the evening was a massively generous Cajun chicken and andouille sausage stew, served atop a crisp corn cake whose relatively bland sweetness perfectly accented its agreeably gooey topping. The further you go into a Cajun dish, the spicier it gets, and soon we felt warm for what seemed the first time in weeks.

We also tried the jambalaya, which proved not quite as “traditional” as it was billed, and a good thing, too: rice with the classic celery, pepper and tomato combo, prawns cooked au point and not the least bit rubbery, plus clams, mussels, halibut, and salmon. This was a true West Coast reinvention instead of a pro forma imitation of the southern original.

Later we discovered that versatile chef Michael Colon in fact hails from New Orleans, but that his current culinary philosophy is “West Coast all the way.”

Desserts included a homemade tiramisu, a New York cheesecake, and a decadent chocolate brownie. We opted to split a serving of the startlingly funky/rich Gorgonzola and walnut cheesecake with mango/honey coulis — not for anyone who’s ever used the phrase “stinky cheese,” but close to ambrosia for those who like this kind of thing.

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The Heritage Grill

447 Columbia St., New Westminster

Open Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

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